PlenOptika: Vision for India & Beyond

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How his grandfather succeeded despite being blind inspired Shivang Dave, Ph.D. to change the world.  As an accomplished bioengineer and a founder, he aims to bring high-quality eye exams to the masses in India with a new device. The M+ Vision Fellowship in Madrid was crucial to building a capable and cohesive founding team for PlenOptika. Shivang was a cheery and inspiring guest; great interview!

Some highlights:

  • Shivang Dave, Ph.D. bio

  • Shivang introduces his wonderfully multi-disciplinary co-founders: Eduardo Lage, Ph.D., Daryl Lim, Ph.D., and Nick Durr, Ph.D.

  • Device looks like binoculars from Star Wars.

  • Addresses a massive problem: 1.5 billion worldwide don’t have the eye glasses they need.

  • The scarcity of trained vision professionals and the large size of optical equipment creates bottle necks outside rich countries.

  • Market research with NGOs and other stakeholders pointed to the need for an accurate, portable and cheap autorefractor.

  • As they spun out from MIT, they discovered that there was also a need for their device in high-resource setting such as the US. 

  • Founding story: M+ Vision Program, an MIT program set up with the government of Madrid to support 10 post-docs working together in identifying solutions for important problems. Daryl Lim, an optics-related Ph.D., discovered that poor vision was a major health problem. Nick Durr also had optics background.

  • Shivang had worked on translating technology to address global health issues; Eduardo had built scanners used by GE.

  • Plan was to create a work-saving device to multiply the capacity of trained professionals.

  • Interplay between the perfect image and what your brain expects to see.

  • PlenOptika and Zipline parallels.

  • Shout-out to MIT Venture Mentoring Service (VMS). 

  • Leave a review on iTunes for Angel Invest Boston.

  • Go to market strategy for PlenOptika.

  • Business plan: sell the device. Massive market.

  • Competition: disrupting desktop autorefractor. Other portable technologies; complementary?

  • Slower to market but best-developed device.

  • Fail fast not always applicable; particularly in medical devices.

  • Backed up by independent studies. De-risks tech for users.

  • Launched in India a year ago, launched in the US five months ago and both are going well. In 2020 expect to be expanding globally.

  • Influenced by poverty in India and his grandfather’s blindness, Shivang felt compelled to do something to improve the world. 

  • First thought of being a doctor but realized that biotech could have impact on a much larger scale by creating medical tools.

  • Publishing papers was not enough; wanted to take the technology out into the world.

  • Worked at Celera Genomics; colleagues saw Shivang’s entrepreneurial spirit and urged him to pursue it. Grandfather was an entrepreneur despite blindness.

  • Shivang’s fundraising advice for device companies; make sure to focus only on investors that invest in hardware. Chasing the wrong investors wastes a lot of time.

  • Surround yourself with good advisors.

  • Getting to no faster can actually save time.

  • Sal say to angels, don’t BS founders; if you know you won’t invest, tell the founders right away.

  • Shivang advises founders to steel themselves and their teams to the challenges of raising money and building the product. Don’t be surprised that it’s hard.